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Tuned In: 'Sopranos' season looks worth the wait

Saturday, January 10, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HOLLYWOOD -- The best show on TV will soon be back.

Fans of HBO's "The Sopranos" have less than two months to wait for the March 7 premiere of the show's fifth season. Based on clips from the 13 new episodes revealed to critics late Thursday, it looks to be well worth the 15-month hiatus between seasons four and five.

After the fourth-season finale, in which the marriage of Tony (James Gandolfini) and Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco) appeared to become irretrievably broken, scenes shown to critics hinted at more emotional turmoil to come for both characters.

Tony talks about how he's old-fashioned and doesn't believe in separation or divorce. He tells Carmela she knew exactly what she was getting into when she married the mob boss.

Gandolfini, whose own marriage recently ended, said filming the fourth-season finale breakup scene was a particular challenge.

"Just having gone through something similar personally, it was a little difficult to dredge those things up sometimes," Gandolfini said. "In terms of the acting, anything that huge just makes you dig real deep, especially when acting with someone like Edie Falco. It takes you to a place you've never gone before."

After this year's fifth season, only 10 episodes, constituting the show's sixth season, will remain. That leaves its star with mixed feelings.

"I'm not ready to say goodbye to the character, but I'm not going to miss him," Gandolfini said. "I want to end this the right way. ... When it's over the right way, I'll say, 'See you later.' "

At one time there'd been talk of "Sopranos" movies after the series ends, but creator David Chase now downplays that idea.

"I probably wouldn't say no to that completely, but I think the last 10 episodes will be that movie," Chase said. "That's the plan."

He said the overriding theme of the fifth season is again relationships.

"It has to do with the limitations of family and friendship in a materialistic world," Chase said. "And also the fact that Tony Soprano is sort of a mature boss -- I don't want to say lion in winter, it isn't winter for him, but he's been doing this quite a while now -- and what it takes to be a leader despite your feelings."

A newspaper article about mobsters who went to prison in the '80s and are now getting out inspired this season.

"It begins with the Mafia class of 2004 hitting the streets," Chase said. That includes Steve Buscemi, who plays a new character: Tony's recently paroled cousin on his mother's side. "They were partners in crime 17 years ago."

Buscemi, who directed several "Sopranos" episodes in past seasons, was asked if his character will survive the show's fifth season, unlike Joe Pantoliano's character in season four.

"I keep my head, if that's what you mean," Buscemi said.

Chase was cagey on other details about the new season. Is Furio gone for good? "He's gone." What about the Russian mobster from the Pine Barrens? "He's gone. He's with Furio."

Network name change

Game Show Network's name change didn't turn out to be all that radical. The network will simply shorten its moniker to its initials, GSN.

Network executives want to broaden the GSN brand to include a wider spectrum of games, including casino gaming and video games. They no longer want the network to be seen as limited to traditional "game shows."

New series include "Fake-A-Date," hosted by erstwhile Joe Millionaire Evan Marriott and premiering March 17. A contestant is paired with two members of the opposite sex and must choose one of them at the end of the date. The catch? One of the singles is looking for love; the other is a pretender.

GSN will also air 'The World Series of Blackjack" in March.

Kutcher back with MTV

Ashton Kutcher's "Punk'd" is history, but he may soon have a new series on MTV. The Hollywood Reporter says Kutcher will executive produce "My New Best Friend," another hidden-camera show in which contestants try to convince friends and family members that a person they've never met before -- played by an improv actor -- is their new best friend. No air date yet.

Coming up later this month, the second season of "Newlyweds," starring Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, premieres at 10 p.m. Jan. 21, followed by " 'Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen & Dave," which chronicles the lives of Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro as they plan their wedding.

Five new episodes of "The Osbournes" will air on MTV beginning Jan. 27 at 10:30 p.m.

'The Shield' returns

FX's "The Shield" returns for its third season of 15 episodes at 10 p.m. March 9.

Reruns of the first season of "Nip/Tuck" will air at 10 p.m. Wednesday beginning March 24, leading up to the second-season premiere June 22.

Reality redux

The second season of The WB's "The Surreal Life" premieres at 9 p.m. tomorrow. This year some of the D-list celebs locked in a "Real World"-type house together include Tammy Faye Messner, ex-wife of convicted televangelist Jim Bakker, and Erik Estrada, the former "ChiPs" star who comes off as the voice of reason. The voice of the unreasonable is that of model Traci Bingham, who refuses to take a bath in a tub because of its raspberry color.

A reunion show of the stars of Fox's "The Simple Life" will air at 8 p.m. Tuesday, one day before the show's first-season finale. Leeza Gibbons will host with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie returning to Altus, Ark., for a town hall-style meeting where local residents get to pose the questions.

Going, going, gone

CBS has cut the episode order for the Friday night drama "The Handler" from 22 episodes to 15. Chances are it's as good as canceled. ... Two syndicated series got the ax this week. "Crossing Over with John Edward" and "The Wayne Brady Show" will not return after their current seasons end.

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or .

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